How Berlin’s ‘Arab Street’ remembers Palestine

Berlin Palestine
6 min read
05 April, 2024

Walking along the nearly five-kilometre Sonnenallee, Berlin’s famed ‘Arab Street’, in the vibrant Neukölln district feels like being transported to the Middle East in the heart of Germany.

Ethnic stores, Arabic accents and restaurants offering Middle Eastern cuisine line up the street; halal meat signs catch the eye, as do the makeshift souvenir stalls and small businesses inviting visitors on a dull Berlin afternoon.

Palestinian flags, pro-Palestine banners with calls to protest and keffiyehs hung in shops also make their presence known. 

“I am from Palestine,” a buyer who seems in his twenties gleefully tells me while standing at a stall on the Sonnenallee.

“That is the one I want to purchase,” he tells the stall owner, referring to a keychain featuring the map of Palestine with the text, 'From the river to the sea,' as passersby watch with curiosity. 

Supermarkets at Sonnenallee — home to a large immigrant population of Middle Eastern origin, earning it the nickname 'Arab Street' — sell dates, spices and beans from the Palestinian territories.

One of the shopkeepers, who chose to stay anonymous, says this is how they are remembering Palestine and safeguarding their culture — especially amid an air of repression in Germany, where Palestinian support is often conflated with the backing of Hamas, considered a terrorist group by Germany and the EU states, and anti-semitism.

The ‘Arab Street’ became a hotspot for protests and police presence since October 7, and as Israel’s brutal bombardment of Gaza continues, it is the point with the most visible Palestinian support in Berlin. However, German authorities have been increasingly accused of trying to silence pro-Palestinian protesters.

Yet here, murals of Palestinian flags and symbols, though often removed by the German police, still stand strong. 

Palestine in Berlin
Palestinian flags and symbols can be seen around Sonnenallee
Berlin Palestine
Restaurants and stalls offering Middle Eastern cuisine line up the street

The Ramadan community 

As iftar time draws closer, crowds accumulate at restaurants to conclude the fast. Some shop workers temporarily halt tasks and sit on the floor in their stores in the congregation to have the fast-breaking meal, a rare sight in Germany. 

At Hermannplatz, a square adjacent to Sonnenallee known for regular pro-Palestine and other demonstrations and sit-ins, families gather post-sunset at a temporary Ramadan food stall to devour Baklava and traditional desserts from Turkey and the Arab world.

“You feel a sense of belonging here [at Sonnenallee] as you know there are not many places in Germany with such a strong [Arab] influence,” says Mahmoud, a Palestinian student based in Germany, who visits Sonnenallee often for traditional food. Mahmoud felt comfortable sharing his first name only. 

“You can eat Palestinian food, Lebanese food, Syrian food, it is all very similar and easily available here,” he adds.

Mahmoud, who is learning German at a language school in Berlin and has been in Germany for almost a year now, feels somewhat satisfied with his life here despite Germany’s crackdown on pro-Palestine activism.

He, however, keeps Gaza in his thoughts. “We meet together here these days for iftar and social gatherings, but the mood still seems sombre due to the situation in Gaza,” Mahmoud shares.

During Ramadan, small businesses on Sonnenallee, run by people of migrant and Arab backgrounds, attract more crowds. The street becomes a melting pot of cultures with the city’s residents and tourists dining and shopping together. 

Laila Chahrour, originally from Lebanon and working at a market at Sonnenallee, says there are too many customers at her shop during this time as the place offers them distinctive ingredients and products.

“We have many Muslims coming here but also other customers [during Ramadan and the Eid season]. We have food and items from Palestine, Syria, Turkey and Lebanon and people take great interest in knowing about them,” she maintains, adding that she works nine hours a day and the street offers a “taste of home” to many regular visitors.

Stories from Palestine on Sonnenallee

Some of the workers and visitors of this famed Berlin street also happen to be from Palestine.

Kefah Jaradat, a 29-year-old Palestinian in Berlin, works at an electronics store at Sonnenallee and studies Mathematics. 

Berlin Palestine
German authorities have been increasingly accused of trying to silence pro-Palestinian protesters

Contrary to the “dangerous” image of Sonnenallee projected by the German media and the country’s far-right — which downplays German anti-semitism, calls it “imported” and weaponises it against brown immigrants, Arabs and the Palestinians often protesting here — Jaradat says, most of the Palestinians in Germany just want to live in peace and dignity and Sonnenallee is no different. 

“I came to Germany to study and work as the economic situation in Syria was not good where my family is now. War and politics do not interest me as it only hurts to think about the situation [in Gaza] and nothing gets resolved,” he says with disappointment, reflecting that their whole lives have been about moving from place to place. 

Post October 7 and with the launch of Israel’s attacks in Gaza, Sonnenallee witnessed demonstrations from time to time with occasional militarisation of the area, police detentions and controls based on racial profiling — a charge Berlin police denies.

‘Nothing to celebrate’

A Palestinian from Gaza, Mohamed, hesitant to share his last name, visits Sonnnallee often. Many working in the neighbourhood seem to share camaraderie with him in what feels like a close community.

With his father killed in the recent Israeli strikes and his mother presently seeking shelter in a tent in Rafah, Mohamed says he is trying to earn and send financial help to his family back home. 

Showing photos of his destroyed house in Gaza, Mohamed, who has been based in the German capital for almost one year and six months now, says this year there are no Ramadan or Eid celebrations in his life.

“There is nothing [to celebrate]. My family is sleeping outside in tents in Rafah. My father was killed. It is really difficult,” he laments, adding that most recently he could send 500 Shekels to help his mother through his work at a construction company in Berlin.

Meanwhile, his lack of earnings also makes it difficult for him to bring his remaining family to Germany and help them escape danger.

Shedding light on the alienation and loneliness he feels as a Palestinian in Germany and far from home, Mohamed claims that most people here are “self-centred” and do not really care about what is happening in Gaza.

“In Palestine, we have people with us. But here in Germany, we are on our own,” he says, with a loss of hope and dejection in his eyes.

Allia Bukhari is a Pakistani journalist based in Prague, Czech Republic. An Erasmus Mundus scholar, she mostly writes on women's issues and human rights

Follow her on Twitter: @alliabukhari1